Tales Online-Glossary

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Note: The Tales Online project uses some specific language and also some shorthand notations, which are briefly described below.       


Adapted: Indicates that the story has been rewritten, either in terms of language or structure, or that parts were deleted, often because of violent or sexual content, from the first printed version.  We often do not know whether the collector adapted the tale, and in those cases we have not indicated whether or not it was adapted.

Adaptor: The person who rewrote the tale for publication, often by cleaning up the language for children.  Note that many tales are not adapted and therefore don’t have adaptors

Age Appropriateness: This field includes potentially offensive content or language in a given tale.  There are three things that we look for here - violence, sex, and language and we indicate whether they are present in the tale.  Implied violence that is not described is not indicated, but incidents such as extreme punishments, body mutilations, or physical cruelty or torture is indicated with the label “violence.”  Many of the Grimms’ tales contain this warning.  The label “Sex” is be used for both implied and graphic sexual acts, although not innocent ones such as kissing.  The label “language” is usually used to indicate swearing, although it can be used to indicate other potentially objectionable subjects, such as a discussion of genitalia, or feces or urine, subjects are not covered by the other two labels.  The criteria for assigning "age appropriateness" was based on a judgment made about the appropriateness of each tale for various age groups as influenced by the content and its relationship to violence, explicit sexual references, and language.

Audience: The audience influences what tale the storyteller tells and how he or she tells it.  Unfortunately, the collector rarely gives much information about the audience, so this field will often be left blank. This field is found on the performance screen.

Number: How many people are in the audience.

                         Age: General age range of audience members.

Names: Their names, when known.

Ethnicity: Their ethnicity.

Sex: Their gender

Marital Status: Whether or not they are married.

Religion: Their religious background.

Occupation: How they make their living.

Relation to storyteller: Whether they are related to the storyteller, either by blood or by friendship.

Relation to collector: Whether they are related to the collector, either by blood or by friendship.

Reaction to tale: Whether they liked the tale and what their comments were.

Bibliographic information:  The publication information about the tale and/or the collection.

Chapter title: Sometimes tales are published as part of a chapter of a book edited by someone other than the chapter’s author.  In these few cases, the chapter title is listed here.

Number of Volumes: Number of volumes. How many volumes in this particular collection of tales.

                        Volume: Which volume this particular tale appears in.

Editor: The person who prepared the tale or collection for publication.

Compiler: The person who selected this particular tale(s) from earlier sources (usually, but not always, unpublished sources) for publication.  Note that there is very little, if any, difference between the Compiler and the Selector.

Selector: The person who selected this particular tale(s) for the collection from earlier sources (usually, but not always, published sources) for publication.

Adaptor: The person who rewrote the tale for publication, often by cleaning up the language for children.  Note that many tales are not adapted and therefore don’t have adaptors. 

Author: Although most of these tales have a storyteller and a collector, a few (for example, Hans Christian Andersen’s tales) are so rewritten from oral tradition for a literary audience that only the term author will apply.  In those few cases, that person’s name is listed under author.

Chapter author: When tales are published as part of a chapter of a book edited by someone other than the chapter’s author, the author of the chapter is given here.

Original title: The title given to the tale/or collection the first time it was published.  Note that original titles are given in the original, and therefore sometimes foreign, languages.

Original language: The language the tale/or collection was first published in.

Published language: The language the tale analyzed in our database was published in.

Publication type: Whether the tale appears in a hardcover book, softcover book, in a journal, or in another type of publication.

                        Publisher info: Full information about the publisher.

                        History: Who published and republished the collection.

Publication Dates:  First publication date and any republication dates.

Series: Indicates that the collection was part of a series, such as the Pantheon Folk and Fairy tale library or the Chicago Folktales of the World series.  Since most collections are not parts of such series, this field will often be left blank.

                        Pagination: The number of pages in the collection.

ISBN: International identification number for both hard and soft cover published editions, when available.

Contents: What is included in the publication, such as notes, table of contents, illustrations, preface, index, introduction, and anything else.

Number of Tales: Number of tales.  How many tales appear in the collection.

Characters: The characters in the story.  Sometimes characters are given concrete names, such as Jack or Cinderella, but more often they are simply referred to by generic names such as girl or old man.  Characters are listed in this database as they are referred to in the tale.

Character roles: Characters are also designated by what they do, or their role in the tale.  The various character roles follow:

Donor: Character who gives a tangible object, such as a ring or a cap of invisibility, to the hero.

Friendly donor: donor who willingly gives something to the hero.  Cinderella’s fairy godmother is a good example of a friendly donor.

Unfriendly donor: Donor who does not mean to give something to the hero but does anyway.  Often the hero tricks the unfriendly donor out of his/her gift.

Helper: Character who assists the hero, either by giving him/her necessary information, or by helping him/her complete a task.

Hero/heroine: The main character of the story, around whom the action revolves.  When the hero is male, he is referred to as hero; when she is female, she is referred to as a heroine.

Seeker hero/seeker heroine: A hero or heroine who leaves home in order to find (seek) his or her fortune.  Jack from “Jack and the Beanstalk” is a good example of a seeker hero.

Trickster hero/heroine: although the trickster hero or heroine is the main character of the story, s/he may not behave heroically.  Instead, the trickster hero lies, manipulates, and tricks people into doing what s/he wants.  Coyote, a popular character in Native American tales, is a good example of a trickster hero.  Trickster heroes usually either are animals or are shape changers who have the ability to become animals.

Deceptive hero/heroine: Not all lying, manipulative, tricky heroes have animal personas and can therefore be considered trickster hero/heroines.  Those lying, treacherous heroes who are not animals and do not change into animals are simply called deceptive heroes.

Victimized hero/heroine: A hero/heroine who is forced into action and heroism by being treated poorly.  Snow White and Cinderella are good examples of victimized heroines.

Instigator: Sometimes tales include characters (such as God and St. Peter, a powerful king, or Luck and Intelligence personified) who set the events of the story into motion.  Usually the instigators, who stand outside of the plot and merely watch it unfold, set it in motion in order to either prove a point or settle a bet.

Spouse: A character who marries the hero/heroine.  Many fairy tales end with the hero or heroine’s marriage.

Villain:  A character who opposes the hero.  Snow White’s stepmother is an example of a villain.

Collection: The printed source the tale is taken from.

                        Collection Title: The title of the collection the tale is taken from.

Collector: The person who recorded or collected the tale from the performer.

                        Name: His or her name.

                        Age: How old he or she was when the tale was collected.

                        Ethnicity: His or her ethnic background.

                        Sex: Whether he or she is male or female.

Marital status: Whether he or she is married or ever has been married.

                        Religion: His or her religious background.

                        Occupation: How he or she makes his or her living.

Other information: Any other information we have about the collector.

Country: The country where the tale was told and collected.  For example, the tales in the Grimm’s collection were collected in Germany.

State: The part of the country where the tale was told and collected.

Region: The part of the state or country where the tale was told and collected.

Compiler: The person who selected this particular tale(s) from earlier sources (usually, but not always, unpublished sources) for publication.  Note that there is very little, if any, difference between the Compiler and the Selector.

Date collected: When the tale was collected.  Sometimes we don’t know when the collector collected the tale; in those cases this field will be left blank.

Field collected: Indicates that the tale was taken directly from a storyteller in his or her native setting.  Field collected tales are true to the storyteller’s telling and therefore more accurately show his or her point of view.  Folklorists prefer field collected tales for this reason, although some people find field collected tales difficult to read.  We recommend that, if you have trouble reading field collected texts, you read them aloud.

Full text/Long Summary: We offer the full text of all tales that are not under copyright.  No summary or description can equal the aesthetic and emotional impact of a tale’s full text.  However, we are legally barred from including the full texts of tales that are under copyright, and in those cases we offer long summaries.  Our summaries are not very exciting and leave out some plot details and much of the tale’s artistry; our hope is that the long summaries will help users to choose those tales they are particularly interested in and lead them to the printed versions.

Genre: Genre refers to the type of tale, its narrative rules and often to whether or not it is believed to be true.  A brief description of the most common genres follows:

                        Anecdote: A short, usually humorous, tale.

Catch tale: Catch tales usually start like standard fairy tales, but then they take an unexpected turn.  Sometimes the tale repeats itself again and again, in a seemingly endless pattern.  At other times catch tales play with time, so that the tale ends where it began.  Sometimes the narrator merely plays with his or her audience by ending the tale before the conflict presented is resolved. 

Cumulative tale: Cumulative tales begin with a single incident and then the narrator builds successively more incidents onto that one.  “The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly,” in which an old woman swallows a fly, then a spider to catch the fly, a rat to catch the spider, and successively larger animals until she swallows a horse and dies, is an example of a cumulative tale.

Dilemma tale: Dilemma tales establish a situation in which the narrator presents a question or dilemma and then encourages the audience to discuss the possible resolutions.

Fairy tale/Marchen: Fairy tales are tales that are told for entertainment and are not believed to be true.  Not all fairy tales contain fairies, so folklorists prefer to use the German term “Marchen.”  Since many of our users are not folklorists, we use both terms.

Folktale: A folktale is a traditional oral narrative.  When it is difficult to assign a more specific genre, we list the tale as a folktale.

Legend: A legend is a tale about events believed to have occurred in the historical past.  Like myths, these tales are believed to be true by the people who tell them, but unlike myths, legends describe the historical past, not the religious and cosmic truths described in mythology.  Several subtypes of legend are described below:

Local Legend: A local legend is a tale told about the believed past and tied to the local landscape.  Tales that describe the origins of strange rock formations, villages, or houses, in historical rather than cosmic terms, are local legends.

Religious Legend: Religious legends describe the believed history of a religious figure such as a saint or prophet.  Religious legends can also be about such figures as Saint Patrick, Saint Peter, the founders of Sufism, or Mormon tales about their human founders.

Myth: Folklorists use the term “myth” differently than it is used in common speech.  Folklorists use the term “myth” to refer to a sacred story believed in by the people who tell it; by this definition, the tales in the Christian Bible are myths.

Novella:  A novella is a tale told for entertainment and not believed to be true, like a fairy tale/Marchen.  Unlike fairy tales, which contain many magical details such as fairies, dragons, and magic rings, novella contain few, if any, magic details.

Schwank:  A German term for jest, humorous anecdote, or merry tale.

Illustrations: Whether there are illustrations accompanying the tale.

Illustrator(s): The name(s) of the person or people who created the illustrations that accompany the specific tale.

Keyword: As discussed on the help menu, a keyword search searches most of the database for matches to your chosen term.  If you are not sure what type of search to do, we recommend doing a keyword search. 

Motif: A term used by folklorists to describe individual details within a tale.  A motif may refer to a character, action, setting, or object.

Descriptor: A short verbal explanation of what each motif is about.  For example, the descriptor for motif A1010 is “Deluge,” meaning that motif A1010 describes world floods such as the one survived by Noah.

Motif number: Motif numbers, which usually consist of a letter and then a series of numbers, are a shorthand way of referring to specific details found in folktales.  The motif number for “Deluge” is A1010.  Unless otherwise indicated, numbers given by Tales Online are taken from Stith Thompson’s Motif-Index of Traditional Folk Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1955, 6 vols.

c    A small c in front of a motif indicates that the tale includes a motif similar to, but not identical to, the listed motif.  For example, consider motif A123.3.1.1 Three-eyed god.  There is no motif that indicates a god with nine eyes, so an analyst might use c A123.3.1.1 Three-eyed god to indicate that the god isn’t actually a three-eyed god but is close.

?    Indicates that the motif number and descriptor are taken from Hasan el-Shamy, Folk Traditions of the Arab World: A Guide to Motif Classification. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, 2 vols.  El-Shamy followed the organization of Stith Thompson’s Motif Index, but added many new motifs to account for lapses in the Thompson index’s representation of Arabic motifs.

Notes: There are two main types of notes included in this field: author’s notes and descriptive notes.  Author’s notes were written by the tale’s editor, collector, or compiler, and include full bibliographic information.  Descriptive notes were written by Tales Online analysts to inform the user about the tale’s possible meaning, social background, or the meaning of particular vocabulary used in the tale.

Original language: The language the tale was first published in.

Original title: The title given to the tale in its first publication.  Note that the original title will sometimes not be in English.

Performance Information: Performance information.  This describes how, when, where, and by whom the tale was told.

Language of performance: The language that the tale was told in.  Note that this may not be identical to the country field.

Ethnic Group/Tribe: Where the group or tribe from which a tale was collected is available, that information will be included.  For Native American tribes, they are identified as "North American Indian Tribe." Other ethnic groups identification will also be included when available.

Selector : The person who selected this particular tale(s) for the collection from earlier sources (usually, but not always, published sources) for publication.

Setting: Places within the tale where the action takes place.

Storyteller/performer: The person who told the tale to the collector.  The collectors did not create the folktales used by Tales Online.  Instead, these tales are taken from oral circulation.  The person who narrated, or told, the tale is called the storyteller.  In some cases the storyteller’s name was not recorded (we only know a few of the names of the many people who told their tales to the brothers Grimm, for example), but whenever this information is available, we have included it.

                        Name: The storyteller’s name.

                        Age: How old he is she was when the tale was told.

Ethnicity: His or her ethnic background.  Note that although this will often reflect the country where the tale was collected, the country and storyteller’s ethnicity are sometimes different.

                        Sex: Whether the storyteller is male or female.

                        Marital status: Whether the storyteller is married.

                        Religion:  The storyteller’s religious background.

                        Occupation: How the storyteller makes his or her living.

Relation to collector: Whether he or she is related to or friends with the tale’s collector.

Narrative style: How the storyteller told this story.  Does he or she use different voices, vary his or her talking speed, use gestures, sing or dance or act out parts of the tale?

Other information: Anything else about the storyteller can be found in this field.

                        Storyteller’s source: Where the storyteller learned the tale.

Tale type: Folklorists use tale types to quickly refer to tales that share specific plots.  For example, “Cinderella” is Tale type 510, “Cinderella.”  All tale types must be preceded with AT.  Example:  AT510

Title: The title of the tale as given in a specific collection.

Translator: The person who translated the tale from a foreign language into English.

Variant Titles: Sometimes the same tale is published in different collections with different titles.  These different titles are listed here.

Authority Title: The title we have designated as the standard title, usually taken from an early and well respected collection or English translation.

Authority Story Number: The number of the tale in the authority collection.

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